The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Making Berry Inks (Huckleberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Pokeberry, etc.) August 29, 2012

Inkmaking is a wonderful way to use up some of the fabulous berries that you can forage for outdoors or grow in your garden. With a berry ink, you can do wonderful water washes, use a dip pen and write great letters, or use it for various drawings and sketches!  You can also use your ink for spiritual journaling or magical work.  Having an ink you’ve made yourself allows you to be creative while making use of sustainable materials that are locally harvestable!

Which Berries to Use?

You can use any berry that has a nice dark stain when you cut it open.  The list that I’ve made ink from, and the colors they produce, are as follows:

  • Huckleberry (Garden, Wild) – Produces a nice denim blue ink (PHOTO BELOW)
  • Pokeberry – Produces a hot pink ink (please don’t eat these berries, they are poisonous) (PHOTO BELOW)
  • Buckthorn, common – Produces a hunter green ink (yes, the ink looks purple, but wait 15-30 minutes and it will radically change.  A little goes a long way!) (PHOTO BELOW)
  • Black Raspberry – Produces a light purple ink (after 1-2 years, it will darken to a brown)
  • Red Raspberry – Produces a medium pink ink
  • Blackberry – Produces a purplish ink
  • Black Cherry – Produces a purplish/pinkish ink (depending on the kind of cherry)
  • Red Cherry – Produces a light pink ink or red ink (again, depending on the kind of cherry)
  • Walnut – Not a berry, but does produce a nice brown ink.  I’ll have another post on how to do this as its slightly different.  (PHOTO BELOW)
Samples of inks (four kinds)

Samples of inks (four kinds)

There are others you can try as well–these are just the ones I’ve experimented with.

Berries that do not work include Autumn Olive/Autumn berry (more will be added as I continue to experiment).

Harvesting Berries

Berries should be ripe (never under-ripe) or slightly over-ripe.  When they are best for eating (for those that can be eaten) that’s the best time for ink making.  You don’t have to worry about stems or small leaves; they will be removed during the ink-making process.

Huckeberries

Huckeberries from the garden

Ink Making Supplies

Ink Making Supplies

Ink Making Supplies I

More Supplies

For ink making, you will need:

  • a pot to cook your ink in (preferably, stainless steel)
  • a potato masher (which you will use to mash down your berries; you could use a large fork in a pinch)
  • 1-2 bowls (glass or stainless steel; buy them used at a thrift store).
  • You’ll need an assortment of strainers and cheese cloth or tulle netting to remove any larger organic bits from your ink; depending on how refined you want your ink, you may also find it useful to have some muslin.
  • Natural inks need a preservative, for this, you can use vinegar (I have apple cider shown, but I actually prefer white vinegar)
  • Rubber gloves – unless you really want to get your hands stained with berry juice!

This last ingredient you don’t NEED, but I highly recommend it.

  • Gum arabic: Gum Arabic improves the viscosity of your ink, meaning it will flow nicely and have a bit more body.  If you want to use a dip pen, you really want it to flow nicely.  But if you are experimenting with various inks and ingredients, I wouldn’t bother with the gum arabic.

I should say some more about gum arabic – you may find it also listed as acacia gum.  You can get it in several forms: for painting in a refined liquid form, in a powder form, or in a resin form.   I don’t recommend the resin form; its hard to get all the lumps out even if you grind it with a mortar and pestle.  I’ve had the best luck with the liquid gum arabic used for watercolor painting.  If you get the powdered form, add some water to it and let it sit overnight–you should end up with a thinnish gel once it is all dissolved.  I have not had much success adding the powder right to the ink.

The Ink-Making Process

I’m going to be using a berry called a “Garden Huckleberry” as a demo for the photos (if you want some, you can find seeds for them here).  But the process is identical regardless of what berry you choose to use.

Step 1: Start by putting your berries in a pot, turning your burner up to medium, and mashing down your berries.  Depending on the berry, you may find that you need to add liquid at this stage–if so add vinegar.  Never add water: it dilutes your ink and you need the vinegar as a preservative anyways.   For 2 cups of huckleberries berries, you’ll end up adding a little under 1/2 cup of vinegar to get a good amount of ink.  And yes, this will make your house smell like vinegar!

Berries in a pot!

Berries in a pot!

Step 2: Continue to mash and cook down your berries.  You are looking for some liquid in your mash–if you don’t have much, add more vinegar.  You want enough so that it will strain easily, but not so much that you dilute the ink.

Very mashed berries (but in clear need of more vinegar!)

Very mashed berries (but in clear need of more vinegar!)

Step 3: Simmer your berries for 10-15 minutes, mashing and stirring to prevent burning.

Step 4: Remove your berries from the stove and let them cool.

Step 5: Once your berries are cool, begin straining them into one of your bowls.   The principle of straining is simple–at this stage, you want to get all the non-liquid plant matter out of your ink.  You will start with a strainer that has a thicker weave (bigger holes) and then work your way down.  Alternatively, you can use a cheese cloth or piece of tulle netting that you’ve folded several times.  For most of my inks, I send them through several strainers, working my way down to smaller strainers as the particles get smaller, till the ink flows smoothly.  You may find the need to force the ink through the strainer during the 1st and second pass, but don’t force it through after that or you’ll end up with some stuff that shouldn’t be in there.  After straining once, rinse out your strainer, and then strain a second time into your clean bowl.  Repeat this process with more fine straining materials until you have a nice ink that doesn’t have any bits or particles in it.

Straining Berries with netting

Straining Berries with netting – you’ll notice I always use more than 1 strainer!

Step 6: If you are using Gum Arabic, this is where you add it.  I generally add about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons for each 1 cup of ink.  Stir it in well.

Add in gum arabic

Add in gum arabic

Step 7: Bottle up your ink!  Some inks aren’t very lightfast, so keep that in mind when you are considering storage options.  You can keep your ink in the fridge if you like (sometimes they do grow mold if you don’t have enough vinegar in there…) but I usually don’t.  The inks just hang out in my art studio so I have easy access to them when I want them!

Pouring ink into jar

Pouring ink into jar

And please make sure you use good rubber gloves.  I couldn’t find mine when making the ink, and the cheap plastic ones I used didn’t work so well…luckily the berry ink doesn’t last that long (unlike Walnut, which you won’t get out for weeks…)

Crappy gloves

Crappy gloves

Using your ink

Berry inks are going to be a little more watery and lighter than a traditional synthetic/processed ink.  To counter this, you can add a lot of ink as you are working; alternatively, you can add a 2nd layer of ink if you are working on a surface that can take repeated application.  Second, berry inks will oxidize as you use them–Huckleberry ink starts out a beautiful reddish-purple, but after several minutes, will dry to a lovely navy blue.  So experiment with your ink and application before using it.  Third, inks have varying degrees of lightfastness–meaning that some of them do fade in sunlight.  Keep this in mind when you are creating!

You can use your ink in a number of different ways.  My favorite way to use it is with a calligraphy pen (dip pen) on smooth Bristol board or vellum.  Its a wonderful writing and drawing ink.

You can also use it for washes (just like you’d use a watercolor paint).  When you use it in a wash, you may find that different variations of color are present as it dries–so experiment and have fun!

I’ve also experimented with putting it in stamp pads (although stamps prefer a more concentrated ink, so cook it down more).  I’ve used it in mixed media art projects as well.  The options are really, really broad with the ink, so be creative and have fun!

Ink Drawing/Painting with Walnut, Huckleberry, Buckthorn, and Pokeberry Inks

Ink Drawing/Painting with Walnut, Huckleberry, Buckthorn, and Pokeberry Inks

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31 Responses to “Making Berry Inks (Huckleberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Pokeberry, etc.)”

  1. Alex Jones Says:

    Wonderful practical advice.

  2. Maria Day Says:

    Love this post. I have always been curious about how to make dyes and inks from plants. I once went to a fascinating talk on dyeing wool with natural dyes. The process wasn’t as simple as I’d hoped. But your post makes creating plant-based inks seem entirely doable with household equipment and gum arabic (easily obtained).

    I just recently found an invasive but beautiful berry plant growing along a walking trail in my neighborhood. A horticulturist I know identified it as porcelain berry. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porcelain_Berry). I wonder if the bright blue berries would makes a sucessful ink?

    Love your tree drawing in inks!

    • Willowcrow Says:

      There is only one way to find out! Try out the berries and see! I haven’t tried that ink yet. If you make some, I’d be happy to send you some of my ink for some of that! Blue might make blue, it might make purple or oxidize into something else entirely.

      For a test batch, I wouldn’t worry about the gum arabic. Its really only used when you want a nice flow from a dip pen!

  3. Teri Anderson Says:

    Thanks for the instructions. I was able to make blueberry ink. I posted about it over on the Fountain Pen Network: http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/index.php/topic/271049-blueberry-ink/ . I’m an inkmaker, too, though this is the first time I’ve tried blueberry ink. Thanks again!

    • Willowcrow Says:

      Awesome! I’m glad to hear my instructions were helpful to you :). What other kinds of inks do you make?

      • Teri Anderson Says:

        Various historical iron gall recipes, and black walnut. I have a pokeberry “forest” in my backyard! So it’s fun to make that every summer.

        • Teri Anderson Says:

          Oh, one more thing. One of the iron gall inks I make is made from pomegranates. I don’t have a blog any more, but I do post the recipes on FPN and on my Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fiberdrunk/sets/72157625122919380/

        • Willowcrow Says:

          Teri, do you have a good iron gall recipe? I’ve been looking for one :). I also do a lot with poke and black walnut. Do you have any ideas for increasing the lightfastness of the poke?

          • Teri Anderson Says:

            Oh goodness, that is the million dollar question! I’ve been trying for a few years to find an answer to how to make pokeberry ink more permanent. The longest lasting way seems to be the simplest… you just mash the berries and use the juice only, without additives or cooking. You have to keep it refrigerated or it ferments (and fermentation affects longevity, too). But even then, I see at least one writing sample from last year is starting to show signs of fading. It just seems like an ink to be enjoyed for today. I wish I could capture and bottle that magenta color forever! You can read the Pokeberry thread on FPN here, where I’ve tried many different things: http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/index.php/topic/225870-pokeberry-ink/ .

            • Willowcrow Says:

              Teri- That is the age old question, isn’t it? Thanks for the link to the poke :).

              By the way, have you experimented with buckthorn berries? If you haven’t you really should. VERY good permanence and you get a very cool and wonderful ink 🙂

              • Teri Anderson Says:

                No, I haven’t tried buckthorn berries yet. After seeing yours, though, I’d sure like to! I love the artwork you’ve done– gorgeous! I’m wondering where I can find the buckthorn berries. I live in North Carolina. I’m glad to hear they’re permanent. Do you have them growing there, or do you find these at the grocery store? What time of year do they typically ripen? I will definitely keep an eye out.

                • Willowcrow Says:

                  LOL, you won’t find them in the store. They aren’t really edible. They are considered a horrible “invasive” around here, but they do make good ink. I’m not sure if you can buy them anywhere….

  4. Teri Anderson Says:

    The pomegranate (iron gall) ink thread is here on FPN: http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/index.php/topic/230340-pomegranate-ink/

  5. Ooh thanks! I’ve got a huge stash of regular craftsupplies, and I try to be very environmentally aware. But I didn’t really think about crafting… I mean, I know about permaculture in the garden which I’m trying to do, but crafting? I came across an ebook about perma-art / making your own supplies, so I made ink this evening. Or rather, I gathered dandelions, grass, some pink coloured flowers, wallnut shells and boiled all of them (in separate pots ofcourse). Now it’s time to finish them – add vinegar and salt I see. They’re kind of light in colour still, I doubt I can use them for stamping, but it looks good for a first try. If possible, I’d love to reblog this post to stimulate more natural / perma-art crafting!

    • Willowcrow Says:

      Debbie-thanks for your comment! In addition to making berry inks, you should look into ecoprinting (on paper and on fabric). I’ve just started doing it this spring….and its opening up many new avenues for creation. There are lots of great websites about it–here is one of the masters of the art: http://www.indiaflint.com/page7.htm (She is using a lot of Australian materials since that’s where she is located–I’m working to find those that would be good for the midwest/eastern US seaboard!)

  6. Reblogged this on DaqaDoodles and commented:
    This week I came across an e-book, called Perma Art, and it was about making your own art supplies. I also bought another e-book about green crafting. It seems to be quite easy to make your own non toxic, non environmental damaging ink! So ofcourse I set out to make that this evening. I’ve boiled some plants, nearly set the house on fire (was called upstairs to help with the kids and forgot about the pots on the stove. Suddenly a smell… oops… rushed down, the waltnushells/onion pot had cooked dry. I’ve still got some scrubbing to do to clean that one out.
    Anyway, the ink I got looks ok, but very light still. Also, it needs some preservative. But what? Is vinegar ok, or should I use alcohol? And do I need to make it less fluid? The books mention ingredients I don’t have yet. And what are all those ingredients in Dutch? I know some translations, but sometimes it really is important to get the right thing – soda and baking soda for instance are not the same. (No, not used in ink, but for homemade washing detergent).
    I searched online for more info about home made ink and stamping and came across this post, which looks great:

    • Willowcrow Says:

      I will have to check out that Ebook!

      Ok, so for the inks: don’t add any water. You can cook the water out of it and make it darker–so just let it simmer on low. It will not affect the pigment of the ink.

      I’m not sure what you are asking with regards to dutch ingredients? Are you talking about in the book or on my blog? 🙂 If you send me a link to the book, I can take a look and see if I can figure it out 🙂

      For preservatives. If you add anything, add vinegar, salt, or alcohol. Vinegar gives you a classic drawing ink, good for painting, dip pens, etc. Even watercolor washes.

      Salt does something similar, but like when you add watercolors to salt, you’ll get interesting pools of color when it dries from the salt content.

      Alcohol will give you different effects–if you are familiar with Alcohol Inks (they are available in the states, not sure about where you are), the alcohol inks can spread and attach more permanently to glass and plastic surfaces. Here’s an example (long video, but she shows you a lot of techniques: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUMjeZlH6zM)

      • Past bedtime here, so short replies now:
        The dutch ingredients: it’s the name of things. I’m new to this, so there are new materials for me – I mostly read about those things in english. Then I decide I would like to try it out, but what is the item called in dutch? I want to be sure to have the right thing, as sometimes two words can almost be the same but be something totally different. I even have it in dutch, two dutch ingredients that seem the same but aren’t.
        Oh, one example came to mind, casein. Maybe it’s the same in dutch, haven’t searched for it yet. Thanks for the tips on preservatives!!
        And also thanks for your visit and comments 🙂

  7. Reblogged this on WitchesWyrd and commented:
    Ooooh, all the ideas! ♥

  8. Cindy Says:

    I need berry ink for a roller ball pen

    • Dana Says:

      I haven’t tried it in a roller ball pen. It would be difficult cause the ink isn’t as refined as commercial inks. You’d probably have much more luck with dip pens :). But try it and let me know how it works!

  9. I’m excited about this post! My daughter has an allergy to isothiazolinones and most markers on the market contain this. Someone may have asked this already, but can this ink be used in markers (like empty crayola tubes)? If so, do I want to add the arabic gum or just use the stain? Thank you!

    • Dana Says:

      I have only tried it with a very well purified walnut ink and a blank marker tube, but I suspect many of them would work, especially if you boiled them down really good so that you had good pigment. 🙂 I’d use the stain by itself (with vinegar for preservative) and keep it in the fridge or freezer, using small amounts. The inks don’t stay good forever 🙂

  10. Dana your one bright beautiful soul and I love you !


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